Key principles and rules for the use of marine CDR procedures
WOR 8 The Ocean – A Climate Champion? How to Boost Marine Carbon Dioxide Uptake | 2024

Key principles and rules for the use of marine CDR procedures

Key principles and rules for the use of marine CDR procedures
> There is no longer any doubt that humanity must remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if it is to achieve its climate targets. However, this removal must meet exacting requirements: neither nature nor people should be harmed, and the removal should be permanent and have a positive climate impact at the same time. Initial propositions, principles and regulatory approaches have already been developed, but the debate has only just begun.
How to regulate increased CO2 uptake by the ocean? fig. 9.9: © Nathan Kelley

How to regulate increased CO2 uptake by the ocean?

> Humanity faces a dilemma. Having ignored the threat posed by climate change for decades, we now need solutions more urgently than ever. Ocean-based methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may help us to offset a proportion of our residual emissions. However, implementing the corresponding measures in a controlled, fair and responsible manner is a mammoth task. As the conservation and management of the oceans are only possible on a collective basis, clearly defined international rules and principles are essential.

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Regulating potential uses of CDR – clear strategies and rules are vital

In view of the increasingly dramatic impacts of climate change, humankind must do its utmost to keep global warming to a minimum. This will need to include the employment of promising ocean-based CDR methods. They are not the only solution to the climate crisis, however. They must rather form part of a broader programme of action designed to manage residual emissions. Above all, it is essential to drastically reduce and avoid anthropogenic emissions; this approach facilitates faster, more effective, more affordable and less risky mitigation of climate change compared to any CDR method.
If ocean-based CDR methods are used, they will put further pressure upon an ocean that is already subjected to diverse forms of human use and exploitation. In order to conserve ocean ecosystems and guarantee fair burden-sharing, carefully considered CDR strategies are required at national and international level alike, with clear targets and rules for all stakeholders. Experts have already developed initial principles for the governance and regulation of land-based and ocean-based CDR. In their view, in addition to prioritizing emissions avoidance, it will be important to ensure in advance that the carbon dioxide removal is permanent and that the interventions will not themselves emit more greenhouse gases than the quantity of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. The methods must also be assessed comprehensively in advance from a climate, environmental and social perspective and possible goal conflicts avoided or resolved; this will need to be achieved in an eco-friendly and equitable manner.
In the experts’ opinion, there are few indications at present that the international community will agree on a common regulatory framework for all forms of carbon dioxide removal. The numerous land-based and ocean-based CDR methods vary too much for there to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Proposals on separate regulation of ocean-based CDR methods in their specific regulatory context appear more promising. The London Protocol shows how this might work. This legislation has been extended in recent years to include marine geoengineering. Provisions on ocean fertilization and carbon dioxide storage in sub-seabed formations have also been included. Such a regulatory approach offers scope for similar integration of provisions on other CDR methods involving the introduction of substances or technologies in the sea.
Harmonized procedures for monitoring, documenting and verifying the carbon dioxide fluxes that arise in removal projects are also urgently required. Monitoring is essential because it can reduce legal uncertainties and prevent abuse while offering scope for certification of permanent CO2 removals. A robust system of this sort would encourage companies to invest in ocean-based CDR projects if certified CO2 removals were to attract public funding or came with other benefits.
At the same time, we need a broad debate involving all sections of society about the possible use of carbon dioxide reduction methods. So far, this debate has merely involved scientists, businesses and a small number of political institutions. Yet strong public engagement is essential for successful climate change mitigation for many reasons. This applies particularly to social groups living in areas where CDR interventions may be implemented. The struggle against climate change is now a struggle for human survival. We must all play a part in mastering this challenge.